Against a backdrop of international food and fuel crises, implementing the commitments made last year at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow is more urgent, and challenging, than ever. Food systems and forests cut to the heart of the climate – and biodiversity – crises, with unsustainable food production and forestry driving deforestation, forest degradation and ecosystem conversion. With agriculture, forestry and other land uses contributing almost a quarter of global GHG emissions caused by humans, halting deforestation must be a core component of action on the climate crisis.

COP27, which will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November, will see the first Food Systems Pavilion, bringing together stakeholders from across food value chains to advance the agenda for tackling the climate crisis through transforming food systems to “create a net-zero, nature-positive world, while also ensuring social justice and food security.

The COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact saw 90% of world GDP and around 90% of global emissions committed to net zero by ‘around mid-century’. Sustainable agriculture and forestry was in the spotlight, with over 90% of the world’s forests covered by commitments made through the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, and this was accompanied by a pledge of USD 1.5 billion for the conservation of Congo Basin forests and peatland. COP26 also saw the launch of the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Roadmap, with traceability and transparency one of the central themes of this government-to-government initiative.

The private sector is making strides to keep pace with these international agreements: for example, the UN’s Race to Zero Campaign represents over 5,000 businesses, alongside other key actors; over 2,200 companies representing USD 38 trillion have science-based emission reduction targets; and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, launched ahead of COP26, has over 500 member firms representing more than USD 130 trillion in assets under management and advice.

But despite the scope of national and corporate commitments to date, SPOTT data tell a different story, with individual company action lagging far behind business and finance sector pledges. SPOTT, an initiative of ZSL (Zoological Society of London), is a free online platform assessing commodity producers, processors and traders on their public disclosure regarding environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. SPOTT-assessed companies collectively manage over 50 million hectares – an area the size of France – for the production of palm oil, timber and pulp, and natural rubber. But only 19% (41/219) have a time-bound commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity. Only 18% (36/202 companies) have public deforestation commitments that apply to their supply chains, and just 35% (67/193) have publicly revealed the names and locations of their mills and processing facilities – a fundamental step if commitments are to be verifiable.

Companies have a major role to play, and financial institutions have a great deal of leverage, in shaping and safeguarding a sustainable future through their purchasing and financing decisions. They must step up to support the advances made at COP27.

Here are three key areas where we hope to see progress in Egypt in November:

  • Implementation COP26 commitments managed to keep 1.5C just within reach of being realised – it is now time for ambitious, decisive action to implement these commitments. Revised Nationally Determined Contributions – the first annual updates to address the insufficient ambition of NDCs submitted in 2021 – should include the contribution of halting gross deforestation in achieving net zero. Both national and corporate commitments should be strengthened by science-based targets, rapid implementation and regular reporting on progress.
  • Finance for forests The broad issue of climate finance will be a major focus in November. The importance of financing climate action in all its forms is paramount to the success of keeping the 1.5C target alive. Alongside this, the role of equitable finance is also vital, with work needed on how large-scale funds for climate adaptation and mitigation can effectively reach recipients and aid those communities that are the most vulnerable to climate shocks in the short and long term. Within this, more targeted financing for forests is required, accompanied by concrete steps to ensure the money has an impact on the ground. USD 12 billion was committed at COP26 under the Global Forest Finance Pledge between 2021-25, with USD 1.5 billion of this pledged for the conservation of Congo Basin forests and peatlands. This was a welcome boost, but far from the estimated hundreds of billions needed annually to reverse biodiversity decline globally by 2030. Blended finance will be needed that mixes funds from public and private sectors, including concessional elements from the Green Climate Fund and multilateral development banks, alongside private philanthropy, venture funding or equity.
  • Nature at the heart of decision making Just three weeks after delegates depart from COP27, global attention will turn to the Convention for Biological Diversity COP15 taking place in Montreal in December. However, biodiversity and climate should not be considered separately: they are closely interlinked, and it’s time to integrate policies that tackle both. Habitat loss – particularly forest loss and degradation – drastically reduces nature’s ability to store carbon, thus accelerating the climate crisis. As species struggle to keep up with the pace of change, their risk of extinction increases, leading to further ecosystem degradation. Nature-based solutions, such as habitat protection and restoration, can provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. ZSL is calling for world leaders to put nature at the heart of all global decision making.